Newcomb historically good in Braves’ Shutout Win at Coors Field
DENVER — The Braves knew Sean Newcomb was capable of striking out nine and pitching at least six-plus scoreless innings, but doing it without issuing a walk? No one was holding their breath waiting for that to happen.
But the big left-hander did it Sunday in a series finale at Coors Field, of all places, limiting the Rockies to five hits and no walks with nine strikeouts in six innings of a 4-0 Braves win. The best start of his young career helped the Braves (6-3) to their first shutout of the season and third consecutive “rubber game” win in three series.
It was the first walk-free outing in 21 career starts for Newcomb, who had averaged three walks and issued four or more in five of his past 11 starts.
“It’s what we all look for (from Newcomb),” said manager Brian Snitker, whose Braves got homers from Nick Markakis, Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, more than enough run support for Newcomb and relievers Shane Carle, Sam Freeman and Arodys Vizcaino. “(Newcomb) had a really good spring, and showed signs of it last year. With him you just keeping thinking that there’s still more in there as he gets confidence. He had it going today.”
Braves pitchers allowed just six runs in the three-game series and Sunday was their first shutout against the Rockies in Denver in more than two decades since Tom Glavine pitched one by himself April 18, 1997.
Newcomb became just the third pitcher and second visitor ever to pitch at least six scoreless innings at Coors Field with no walks and at least nine strikeouts. He joined another big lefty, Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, who had nine strikeouts and no walks in six innings of a 2007 game for Arizona against the Rockies, and Jon Gray, who had 16 strikeouts with no walks in nine innings of a 2016 game against the Padres.
“I’ve just got to go out there and make my pitches do what they can do, I don’t have to worry about the field and the air,” Newcomb said, dismissing the notoriously difficult high-altitude, thin-air conditions for pitching at Coors. “I just made my pitches and let the defense work.”
In just his third scoreless game in the majors, Newcomb took a three-hitter through three innings and retired 16 consecutive batters – nine via strikeouts – before giving up consecutive singles to start the seventh inning.
“I’m just sitting in the wind-up the whole time, just kind of groovin’, just making my pitches,” he said of that run of 16 batters retired. “Even when I was missing I was able to bounce back and make pitches after that, so that was kind of the key.”
Another key was his increased use of the change-up, a third pitch to complement Newcomb’s 91-94 mph fastball and curveball. He didn’t use the change much during his first start of the season, a beating against the Nationals where “Newk” gave up five hits, six runs (five earned) and four walks in 4 1/3 innings and 97 pitches.
But veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki made sure he used it frequently Sunday in a 79-pitch, 49-strike performance.
“Big,” Newcomb said. “We used that a lot, probably more than the curveball. I was able to get some good hitters out with it…. I think the last time out I probably didn’t throw it until the second or third inning. I could’ve used it. It was on today, too, so that helps.”
Snitker said, “He broke (the change-up) out early and I think it allowed him to compete. It was a really good one. I love the fact that Zuk went to it early in the game and then stayed with it. It was a really good pitch for him.”
The outing was a major step forward from Newcomb’s season debut against Washington at SunTrust Park.
“To kind of rebound from the first one — I kind of cleaned everything up, I was more in control and maintained that all the way through,” he said.
His run of 16 batters retired ended when Nolan Arenado bounced a single high off the third-base bag to start the seventh inning. Trevor Story followed with a single and the Rockies had runners at first and second with none out, trailing 4-0 with a crowd of 42,031 coming alive in hopes of seeing the home team take advantage of the situation.
But their hopes were quashed when Braves reliever Shane Carle replaced Newcomb and retired the next two batters on a double-play grounder and a fly-out.
“Amazing again,” Snitker said of Carle, an early season pleasant surprise with only one run and five hits allowed in 7 2/3 innings over four appearances. “The guy’s been in some high-leverage situations (already this season). He attacks the zone, has the change-up. The breaking ball, I’ve seen it better during the season than we did in spring training.”